Vancouver Travel Guide
Heading to the jewel of Canada's west coast? Here's our ultimate guide for your holiday in Vancouver.
What you will find in this guide:
Getting to Vancouver
Getting around Vancouver
Top things to do in Vancouver
What to eat in Vancouver
Where to explore outside of Vancouver
Canadian Dollar CAD
Avg 9.5 hrs
Need to know about Vancouver
Vancouver is Canada's western most city, and it frequently tops the list of top cities to live in. Though that can be expensive! It is afterall the Hollywood of the north.
The main downtown area of Vancouver is not huge, largely because it's built on a peninsula - the tip of which is the famous Stanley Park. Outside of the downtown area there are plenty of unique areas to explore, for example to the south is Kitsilano and Granville Island, and to the north is Grouse Mountain and the northshore.
Vancouver makes for an excellent city break, with loads of things to do in or around the city - especially if you love the great outdoors. It's also an excellent place to start or end a road trip through the Canadian Rockies - either as a round trip or a drive through to Calgary.
Where is Vancouver?
Vancouver is a seaport city located in the south west corner of British Columbia, Canada.
The weather in Vancouver is a bit of a running joke - it is after all fondly referred to as Raincouver. It's wise to always prepare for rain!
Summer in Vancouver can get hot - though being on the coast there's usually a breeze that will cool you down. So if you're travelling in summer you can expect much the same as a good summer here in the UK.
Winter in Vancouver is mild - don't go to Vancouver expecting heaps of snow. You're more likely to get rain than snow in downtown Vancouver, but if you're staying in the city and want a taste of some snow then you can take an easy trip across to Grouse Mountain where you'll be sure to find plenty of the white stuff.
Getting to Vancouver
Vancouver International airport, or YVR, is fewer than 10 miles from downtown Vancouver and is Canada's second busiest airport, after Toronto Pearson International. Getting to the city centre from the airport, both by taxi or by public transport, is pretty straightforward. Here's what you can do.
Trains to Vancouver from the airport
The SkyTrain is Vancouver's above ground metro system which, like London's DLR, has driverless trains taking commuters across the city. It's roughly a 30-minute journey for less than $7 on the Canada line.
Getting to Vancouver by car from the airport
If you plan on hiring a car through us for your time in Vancouver, perhaps as a way of getting from the airport to your hotel, the route is approximately 10 miles to the city proper and takes around 20 minutes in good traffic.
Alternatively, a taxi will cost around $45.
Hiring a car in Vancouver
If you plan to get out of the city and further into nature, hiring a car is a great idea. A popular route is to drive the famous Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler. It's only 120km, about a 90-minute drive and well worth it for the spectacular views you can get. On the way up you can stop at the Sea to Sky Gondola - and when in Whistler you can check out the Olympic rings from the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
On the drive back make sure to come back across the Lionsgate Bridge for the most epic drive into Vancouver and through Stanley Park!
Getting around Vancouver
Getting around Vancouver by public transport is highly recommended - there's nowhere you won't be able to get to via one of the four great options:
- The SkyTrain
- Public buses
- The Sea Bus
We suggest getting a Compass Card if you're planning on using public transit throughout your stay - they also do day passes. These are valid on all public transit in metro Vancouver, or the greater Vancouver area.
How to use the Vancouver SkyTrain
Vancouver's metro system has three lines operating all over the city. They are the Expo line, the Millennium line and the Canada line:
The Canada Line is the route we took from the airport. The train goes directly north from Vancouver International to Waterfront, which is downtown Vancouver. The Canada Line also has another route which operates between Waterfront and Richmond-Brighouse stations in the south.
The Expo Line also has two routes serving the south-east areas of the city centre; Waterfront Station and King George are one route, and the other runs between Waterfront Station and Production Way-University Station.
The Millennium Line runs from east to west between VCC-Clark Station and Lougheed Town Centre Station.
Vancouver's public buses
TransLink buses run a continuous service throughout the day, with some express lines that make fewer stops so you can get about even quicker. Vancouver also has environmentally friendly electric trolley buses, or trams, that operate in a north-south direction on major routes through the city.
The Seabus is a pretty nifty way to get across the Burrard Inlet. The Seabus connects Lonsdale Quay to downtown Vancouver, offering some pretty awesome views of the city skyline.
The journey takes less than 20 minutes, the ferry departs every 15 and it's clean and spacious.
Tickets for Vancouver public transport
The great news is that the same tickets will work on all of Vancouver's public transport, which makes life super easy when it comes to getting about seamlessly.
There are two things you need to know:
The price of a single journey depends on the zones you travel across - zone 1 costs $2.85 (£1.60), zone 2 is $4.10 (£2.30), zone 3 is $5.60 (£3.19). If you travel across zones, just add the prices together. For example, a journey from zone 1 to 2 will cost $2.85 (£1.60) plus $4.10 (£2.30) for a total of $6.95 (£3.90). Also, a 'single' gives you 90 minutes of unlimited journeys starting from the time you touch in on the first one.
A 24-hour unlimited travelcard will cost you $10, or $15 to include a journey to the airport.Top
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Top things to do in Vancouver
Gastown is Vancouver's oldest town, founded in 1867 by an English settler, 'Gassy Jack' Deighton. It's the place to come for Victorian architecture, cobbled streets, the iconic steam clock, First Nations art galleries and generally plenty of charm. It's also the place for trendy boutiques and where to buy your souvenirs.
If you're hungry, North west of Gastown, near Waterfront Station, is Japadog - Japanese-infused hotdog stand which is definitely not to be missed.
Though Gastown itself is charming, we have a quick word of caution - this area does border the downtown east side, an area known for its social issues. We advise when exploring later at night that you bear this in mind.
The Granville Island Public Market is a haven of shops, breweries, pop-up street food and even a water park.
We definitely recommend sparing a few hours to casually stroll the bustling market and grab a bite to eat. We also picked up plenty of traditional maple syrup to bring back to the UK, as well as plenty of snacks for the rest of our trip.
Granville Market is super popular with locals and tourists alike. If you want a real taste of the Vancouver food scene, definitely speak to our friends at Vancouver Foodie Tours
Once you've finished there it's also worth following the sea wall round to Kitsilano beach - it'll give you excellent views of the city and Stanley Park and it's an area very popular among the locals.
No trip to Vancouver is complete without visiting Stanley Park - here you'll find 5.5 miles of promenade and seawall ideal for walking, running, rollerblading and cycling along. Some of the surrounding hotels will offer free bike hire - or there are bike hire companies you can use - this really is the best way to get around the park at your own pace.
Thanks to a forest of approximately 150,000 trees, this part of Vancouver is teeming with plenty of critters, so expect to see plenty of wildlife in Stanley Park, like raccoons, black squirrels, harbour seals, coyotes, bald eagles and bats.
Stanley Park is a designated national historic site of Canada and the world-famous totem poles mark the former settlement of a First Nations village. These ginormous colourful wooden structures are replicas of the original totems, which are currently being preserved in storage.
How to make the most of your money in Vancouver
Having been to Vancouver and spent lots of money and time there, we have to tell one of our favourite things about money in Canada – the penny is no longer in circulation, with products and services always being rounded up to the nearest 5¢. This is great if you hate carrying loads of change around.
What's a loonie?
You might hear locals talking about a loonie. No, it's not an insult, but the local term for a $1 coin, which bears the picture of a bird, the common loon, on one of its sides.
In French-speaking parts of Canada, you might hear this same coin referred to in its French translation, a huard. Other slang terms include bucks and another French term, piastre. Don't be confused, they're all the same thing.
Oh and a $2 dollar coin is called, yep, you guessed it, a toonie.
Should you tip in Canada?
A lot of people might ask if tipping is as big of a deal in Canada as it is in the U.S and we can tell you that it is.
Unlike the U.S, where service workers rely on tips to subsidise their minimum wage, tipping in Canada is not compulsory as people here are paid higher minimum wages. This doesn't mean tipping isn't expected though.
It's fair to say that as a nation, Canadians pride themselves on their great manners and friendly attitude, especially in the service industries. By tipping poorly or not at all, say after a meal, you'd be telling the server that you received poor service and were massively dissatisfied, which is seen as a tad insulting.
Generally, 15-20% is a good benchmark, especially when it comes to restaurants. Hotel staff such as concierge, housekeeping and valet would also expect to be tipped, while 10% is a good guide for taxis.
If you see a tips jar on the counter on a shop, these are not expected in the slightest, though a great place to leave your loose change.Top
What to eat in Vancouver?
Vancouver is a paradise for any self-respecting food lover with no shortage of amazing places to eat. In fact, local foodies refer to Vancouver as the culinary capital of Canada - try saying that with a mouthful of poutine.
What is poutine? We hear you ask. Well, poutine is a traditional Canadian dish which is essentially meat-based gravy on fries dashed with lashings of chewy cheese curds. All you need to know is that it's delicious and can be found in pretty much any diner, as well as large chains like McDonald's.
You'll find plenty of variations on poutine throughout the city so it's well worth trying more than one!
As the gateway to the Pacific ocean, It's fair to say that Asian food has had a major influence on the gastro-scene in Vancouver and the sushi here is probably the best outside of Japan. In fact, contrary to the name, it's claimed that the California Roll was actually invented in Vancouver in the 1970s.
There are plenty of fancy sushi places you can try, and you'll pay for it - but we actually recommend you try some of the smaller local sushi places as you'll get much better sushi and you'll get more for less.
Japanese food is so popular that it's even merged with a popular North American staple. The unusual, but incredibly popular Japadog takes Japanese delicacies and loads them on a hotdog. It's a funky fusion treat that just has to be tried.
You'll find vendors all across the city, each with a deliciously fused menu of hotdogs topped with seaweed, noodles and tempura prawns.
Okay this one is a drink rather than food, but don't be confused when you see London Fog on the menu at any good coffee shop. We first tried one by accident when a local ordered us one instead of the latte we thought we were getting - and we never looked back. A London Fog is steamed milk, over earl gray tea with some vanilla syrup.Top
Where to visit outside of downtown Vancouver
Though Vancouver is amazing for a city break, where we think the city really shines is how close it is to some absolutely amazing natural sights. A trip to Vancouver really isn't the same without taking some time to get outside of the city and to explore nature.
Grouse Mountain is one of the North Shore Mountains overlooking Vancouver and is a great place to visit if you're after epic views of the city. You could take the stairs - around 100,000 people do every year (look up the Grouse Grind!), but the Skyride gondola will let you climb that 850m incline without breaking a sweat.
There are three types of ticket - Alpine, Peak and Ultimate Experience. Alpine is about $45 and will get you on the Skyride, entry to Lumberjack Shows, bird demonstrations, Ranger Talks at the Bear Habitat. Peak Experience is $49 and includes all this and entry to the chairlift ride and Ultimate Experience includes everything mentioned AND entry to the Eye of the Wind glass view pod and is $59.
In the summer months you can explore the trails or do some mountain biking. Or in the winter you can ski, snowboard or our favourite snow shoeing.
Grouse Mountain is easily accessible via public transport - simply get the SeaBus to North Shore and then catch a bus to the mountain.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Probably one of the best tourist attractions in Vancouver is the Capilano Suspension Bridge; a breathtaking adventure that's definitely not to be missed!
Once you've braved the 140m walk along the suspension bridge, 70m above the river, you're met by plenty of things to see and do, like the tree-top bridges, birds of prey displays and the terrifying cliff walk.
Escape the city for a few days and head to Vancouver Island via ferry - here you'll find iconic pacific northwest scenery, a stunning formal garden (Butchart Gardens), whale watching adventures and you can even grab a good old fashioned cream tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria.
Whistler and beyond..
If you're using Vancouver as the starting point for your Canadian Rockies adventure then your first stop is likely going to be Whistler - and the drive up to Whistler via the Sea to Sky Highway is one of the most stunning drives in the world.
Whistler itself is a fairly standard ski town, and was home to the 2010 winter olympics. One of the most unique attractions however is the Peak to peak gondola as it's one of the only places in the world where you can take a gondola between two different peaks - Whistler and Blackcomb.
From Whistler it only keeps getting better - you can drive on to Wells Gray, Jasper, Banff and eventually end up in Calgary. We can't guarantee you'll ever want to come home. Our top tip - book a campervan with Escape Campervans and have the most epic camping roadtrip Tik Tok would be proud of.Top
Vancouver Trip - FAQsHow many days do you need in Vancouver?
If your visit is part of a larger British Columbia trip, we'd recommend at least 3-4 days in Vancouver to really experience the city, sea and mountains. That being said, you won't be short of things to do and see if you're able to give yourself longer.
What is the best way to travel in Vancouver?
The best ways to get around in Vancouver are by foot, bike or public transport. Central Vancouver is quite compact and the streets are aligned on a grid so are easy to navigate on foot. If you'd prefer to bike, there are plenty of rental shops downtown and cycling routes throughout the city. When it comes to public transport, the Translink system - which includes buses, the SeaBus ferry and the SkyTrain - is incredibly reliable, convenient and pretty inexpensive.
What is the best month to visit Vancouver?
Spring months, from March to May, are a perfect time to visit Vancouver. Travel prices are cheaper than the peak summer months, the weather begins to warm up and there are so many fantastic activities to enjoy, from whale watching to skiing, experiencing the famous Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival to exploring the outdoor markets.
Vancouver in Autumn is also a great time to visit, the summer crowds have thinned and the city is yet to go into winter hibernation. The parks are particularly beautiful in September with all their autumn foliage and there are plenty of seasonal events to appreciate throughout the season, including Halloween and Thanksgiving.
If you're planning an outdoors winter adventure, visiting between December to February is the best time for you. Skiing to snowboarding, tobogganing to ziplining, Vancouver's mountains are your playground. There's also lots of Christmas and New Year's events that are sure to delight throughout December. During winter, hockey season will be in full swing, so why not enjoy a quintessential Canadian experience and catch the Vancouver Canucks in action?Is Vancouver expensive to visit?
While Vancouver can be expensive to visit there are a few ways in which you can save money:
- Visit off-peak - Enjoy more affordable prices and fewer crowds. We'd recommend getting away in spring since you're more likely to enjoy milder and sunnier days than in other off-peak periods like in autumn.
- Take advantage of all the free places you can visit - Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, Lynn Canyon Park, Arbutus Greenway and Dr Sun Yat-Sen Park are all worth a visit. There's also a number of lovely beaches including English Bay Beach and Spanish Banks. If you're an art buff, there are so many incredible public art installations around the city to discover. Plus, if you visit the Vancouver Art Gallery on a Tuesday, admission is by donation only.
- Find cheap eats - Avoid splurging on expensive restaurants by stocking up at Vancouver's many markets or take advantage of Vancouver's fantastic food truck scene and sample a range of local cuisines.
- Look out for exclusive deals on the Destination Vancouver website. It's worth checking out if you can nab yourself a nice little discount of any tours or attractions you may want to visit.
Yes, Vancouver is a safe destination to visit. Tourists are unlikely to experience any crime or violence. Like when you visit any other city, it's recommended to be aware of your belongings and surroundings as you explore.